Salesopolis-SP (Brazil), February 2nd 2023.
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord and World Day of Consecrated Life.
“Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven”
(Mathew 55: 11-12).
As a continuation of previous newsletters, we, the Palavra Viva Catholic Community, would like to communicate through this third issue, to all bishops, priests, sponsors, and friends, the important and fruitful moment that we are experiencing right now.
As you know, in 2020 we were preparing to celebrate our Jubilee on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of our foundation. We were also celebrating the expansion of the Palavra Viva Charism from ten to twenty countries, and from three to five continents. For these reasons, we called all members who lived abroad in missionary houses to return to our headquarters in Brazil for three months.
With the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, there was a considerable reduction in our missionary activity. Therefore, the members of the General Council and the Executive Council of the Community decided to extend the three months’ Jubilee to a full year of formation in Brazil. The purpose was to benefit all members and to strengthen the Charism in preparation for a future missionary expansion. This decision was officially communicated to bishops, priests, sponsors, and friends who accompanied us, as well as to the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family, and Life in Rome.
In the first months that we were all together in Brazil, we noticed strange behavior in some priests and in a small group of consecrated men and women. These members showed signs of resistance to the commitments of poverty, chastity, and obedience. At the same time, they expressed their dissatisfaction with this brief interruption of their personal projects abroad, despite the fact that this formation time would benefit the Community´s mission as a whole and was aimed at the formative growth of the Institution. Furthermore, they reacted negatively to a simpler and more quiet life in a rural location, different from what they were used to in the different dioceses around the world.
Consequently, divergences and disagreements that were unknown to the Community in our 27 years of foundation began to appear. It all became visible as our formative program, based on Catholic Doctrine as contained in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, moved forward. Having to face these challenges, we decided to expand the training to three years in order to find a solution to these situations. Once again, this decision was communicated to the bishops of the dioceses where we lived, and they reafirmed their support and prayers.
After a few months, certain members of the Community began to report to the General Council the inadequate and strange conduct of two antagonistic groups, both of which held extremist positions. On the one hand, a small group of priests and consecrated lay people held a progressive and modernist way of thinking. And on the other hand, a small group of consecrated women were opposed to the doctrine and reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and manifested a strong resistance to the Holy Father, Pope Francis.
Each of these groups had diverged from fidelity to the Sacred Deposit of Faith, and attempted to insert heterodox doctrines and behaviors into our Community. They strayed from Catholic doctrine, the liturgy, and the Sacred Magisterium of the Holy Church, which are so dear and fundamental to Palavra Viva´s work. The Moderator and General Council of the Community, as well as the other disciplinary and administrative bodies of our Community, jointly condemned these aberrant behaviours and doctrinal positions as anathema to the Palavra Viva’s Charism. The actions of these groups were deemed to be contrary to the rules, the Statute, and the General Purpose of the Institution, in which we expressed our call to: “firmly defend the deposit of faith, rescuing the sacred in the Church, in the hearts of men and women in total obedience to the Particular Church, the Magisterium of the Church and the Holy Father, our Supreme Shepherd”.
Investigations were undertaken by the General Council into the behaviors and doctrinal positions of these groups and reports were prepared. Based on these reports, a practice of conduct contrary to the unity of the Charism was proven. The priests and consecrated persons within these groups were found to hold serious doctrinal, liturgical, sacramental, and pastoral deviations. Extensive dialogue with these groups was undertaken over eighteen months to resolve the disagreements. However, several members of these groups showed no interest in abandoning these extremist behaviors, and were subsequently dismissed from the Community. At the time, other members anticipating this decision asked for their own dismissal conscious that they would be dismissed as well. Everything was rightly verified, respecting the Adversarial and the Comprehensive Defense principles, as stated in our Statutes and in the Code of Canon Law.
After the dismissal of these priests and consecrated men and women, members continued to report additional serious behaviors from the period they were part of the Community. Therefore, as an initiative of one of our priests and some other members, the General Council, in Mogi das Cruzes, instituted an Inquiry Commission. The Commission was composed of four consecrated persons who carried out an ombudsman at the official headquarters in Salesópolis. During the month of January of this year, this Commission received new and serious reports, since people were no longer intimidated by the presence of the dismissed members.
There were reports of lay consecrated women and men who felt victims of moral harassment and spiritual abuse, especially during Spiritual Directions and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. An apparent lack of financial integrity and a instrumentalization of sacraments for other purposes, was also found. These grave behaviors from the priests and the former members involved were evidenced contrary to the Institution, and to Canonic and Civil Laws.
Thereafter, the commission presented a report with their conclusions to the General Council. The report summarized over sixty hours of interviews involving serious allegations of misconduct or the teaching of heterodox doctrines, with witnesses and documentary evidence. The Council prudently ascertained all the facts. And after being encouraged by canonists, it was considered necessary to present a formal complaint to the competent authorities of the Holy Church, both in Brazil and in Rome, so those involved could be properly judged. In addition, the Legal Department of the Community collected evidence of civil crimes such as slander, injury, and defamation. If necessary, we will file lawsuits to repair all material and moral damages.
We wish to reassure you that in the history of the Palavra Viva Community there has never been aberrant behaviour among our members such as this. The events that occurred in the Salesopolis campuses, perplexed the Community´s Directors, as well as all the other members residing in Mogi das Cruzes and Salesopolis, who were not involved and who were working actively in the formative restructure and in the internal reorganization of the Institution.
Despite the challenges, we are confident and grateful to God for this important chapter of our Community. This time has allowed us to discover everything that does not belong to the Charism, and it has made us stronger, and more united. Furthermore, it has restored our fraternal charity, essential to the origin of the Charism. We recognize and rejoice in the certainty that the Community is being visited by God. It has become clear that, through this process of restructure and purification, Our Lord Jesus desires to mould us as He has done throughout Church´s history by continual persecution. Now we understand the reasons why the Lord, in His mercy, brought us back to Brazil for this formative period.
On this World Day for Consecrated Life, we pray to God that, through the intercession of the Virgin of Fatima, Saint Francis of Assisi, and Saint Therese of the Infant Jesus, we receive the grace we need. Once this brief time is over, we hope to return more mature and with a renewed missionary ardor to our activities in the different countries in which we work, and into those places the Holy Church will send us.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (…) No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”
(Romans 8: 35-37).